Health Buzz: Number of West Nile Cases Continues to Spike

The CDC wants baby boomers tested for hepatitis C; food fight: school lunch, a ‘battlefield’

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CDC Warns Of Sharp Increase in West Nile Cases

Health officials are warning about a dramatic spike in the number of West Nile cases nationwide. More than 1,100 people have been affected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—three times as many as usually seen at this point in the year. About 400 of the cases were reported in the last week, suggesting the problem is accelerating, HealthDay reports. Seventy five percent of cases were reported in five states: Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Dakota and Texas, with about half in Texas. So far, 41 deaths have been reported nationwide. West Nile causes symptoms that range from fever, headache, and body aches, to neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, and paralysis. The best way to prevent infection? Avoid mosquito bites: Use insect repellents, put screens on doors and windows, and wear long sleeves and pants. 

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  • The CDC Wants Baby Boomers Tested for Hepatitis C: Now What? 

    Ask the average American about hepatitis C, and there's a good chance you'll get a blank or befuddled stare. It's the sort of disease someone's heard of, but can't quite recall how it spreads or what it does. What's worse, upwards of 3 million Americans—75 percent of whom are baby boomers—have the virus but don't know it. That's because this population was likely infected in the 1970s and 1980s, amid high rates of hepatitis C infections, but may not be showing any symptoms—yet. The leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, hepatitis C can become fatal if it progresses to liver disease. 

    In a telephone briefing last week, in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 to get tested for hepatitis C, the agency's director, Thomas Frieden, realized that he, too, required screening. "As I've been conducting this briefing, it has occurred to me that I was born during that time period, and as far as I know, I haven't been tested," he said. He had his tonsils out as a boy, for example, referring to one of the many possible ways that someone could be exposed to the virus. Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood and has spread, for example, through blood transfusions and organ transplants that took place before 1992—which marked the start of widespread screening of the blood supply—as well as through needles for injection drug use or tattoos, and even razors at a barbershop or nail salon. 

    A big part of the problem is the symptomless nature of hepatitis C. It can take 30 years for people to show any signs of the virus, and by then, it may be too late for effective treatment. If detected in time, however, promising new treatments can cure the disease. Hence, the CDC's effort at "catching up our screening recommendations" to these medical advancements, Frieden says. The new, age-based guidelines build on the CDC's current risk-based ones in the effort to "identify these silent infections" in as many as 800,000 Americans, Frieden says. [Read more: The CDC Wants Baby Boomers Tested for Hepatitis C: Now What?

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    • Food Fight: School Lunch, a 'Battlefield' 

      One of the more contentious debates in modern public health, as it wrestles with relentlessly epidemic obesity and its protean consequences, is the role of personal responsibility. 

      At one end of the spectrum are those who believe that because we're in control of how we use our feet and forks each day, a simple matter of making good choices must trump all. At the other extreme are environmental determinists who feel we can never take better care of ourselves until the environment makes that the inescapable default; that only comprehensive policy changes will do. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on large sodas garners support from the latter camp, for instance. 

      The vitriol of this debate within the circles I travel is increasingly intense, writes U.S. News blogger David Katz. We have, apparently, lost the ability to agree to disagree or to disagree with respect and civility. Taking cues from our political leadership—or groups of children with serious behavioral problems—we seem increasingly inclined to assume evil intent and cognitive deficiency among those who don't share our views. The problem with this, other than the hostility itself, is that we lose opportunities to meet in the middle. [Read more: Food Fight: School Lunch, a 'Battlefield'